Dublin Highlights Uncovered – Our personal top tips for a city stay

Prehistoric gold hoards in the National Museum of Ireland

In January we went for a short trip to the Irish capital of Dublin. The city welcomed us with its characteristic winter chill and drizzle – and therefore over the course of four days we visited a lot of museums. Reflecting on our trip upon returning to Berlin, we came up with the following personal list of Dublin highlights. Predictably, the highlights predominantly feature museums and culinary experiences, as it was too cold to spend a lot of time outdoors.

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The National Museum of Ireland – gold hoards and bog bodies

National Museum of Ireland, Archeology building

Our visit to the National Museum of Ireland on our very first day in the city was really a standout among our Dublin highlights. Founded in 1877, this historic institution features an impressive entrance hall adorned with a majestic cupola. The main hall is supported by iron girders reminiscent of European grand railway stations. And the amazing collection kept us busy for hours.

First, we followed the suggested exhibition outline on the ground floor from Prehistoric Ireland to the Bronze Age, featuring Celtic axes and some prehistoric tomb slabs. The centre of the main hall was filled with showcases of several fantastic gold hoards and prehistoric jewellery.

Oldcroghan man, a bog body in the National Museum of Ireland

The Kingship & Sacrifice exhibition in the next room also left a lasting impression. Here, the museum showcases one of the finest collections of bog bodies worldwide. The mummified chieftains discovered in the Irish bogs are remarkably intact since they wouldn’t decompose in the dense low-oxygen soil. In these early Irish kingdoms loyalty and submission were measured in a somewhat bizarre manner. Following the demise of a king, apparently his head was severed, and his nipples were excised. Sucking the nipples of the king during his reign was deemed a sign of unwavering loyalty, yet upon his passing, the removal of these signified the end of any potential rulership. Sometimes our past is shaped by some unsettling customs, don’t you think? We would have liked to stay longer, but as closing time approached, the guards politely ushered us out.

The Jeannie Johnston – a so-called “coffin ship”

On the Jeannie Johnston museum ship, Dublin

We found another highlight of the Dublin Museum landscape in an unlikely place. On the River Liffey, the reconstruction of a historic ship that sank in 1858, acts as a floating museum. The Jeannie Johnston was one of the ships used by the less fortunate to seek a new life in Canada, though its story is not quite typical.

Originally intended as cargo vessels, ships like the Jeannie Johnston traversed the Atlantic laden with goods and timber from America, only to make return journeys empty-handed. However, during the Great Famine, they became vessels of hope for Irish immigrants, transporting them to North America amidst dire conditions. With cramped quarters accommodating up to 300 individuals, these ships earned the grim moniker of “coffin ships” due to their staggering mortality rates of 25-30%. However, the conditions for the immigrants sailing on the Jeannie Johnston were quite good and not a single person died during the crossing.

We spent a whole day exploring the Dublin Docklands (read about it here), where we also visited the Irish Famine Memorial, some modern architecture, and the EPIC museum (Irish Emigration Museum). But our visit to the Jeannie Johnston was the highlight of the day.

14 Henrietta Street Museum

14 Henrietta Street Museum, a highlight of the Dublin museum landscape

Another museum we loved was the 14 Henrietta Street Museum, a wonderful historical museum. Originally built as a townhouse for a wealthy Dublin family in the 18th century, it later underwent various transformations, serving as tenement housing during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, the house offers insights into the lives of Dubliners who resided there during its tenement years. To visit the 14 Henrietta Street Museum, we had to book a guided tour on which we set out to explore this historic apartment building in detail, even investigating the basement. At some point, up to ten people lived there in one dark and damp room.

And thanks to our very knowledgeable guide we got differentiated insights into the lives of the former inhabitants. She recounts that an old man who was born in one of the damp basement flats today works as an adviser the museum. In his perception he had a great childhood with all his friends living in the same house. There was a strong sense of community with everyone helping each other.  

Initially, we were a little apprehensive whether the visit with a fixed time slot and the relatively long approach from the city centre would be worth the effort. But we were glad that we decided to do it – 14 Henrietta Street Museum turned out to be another highlight in Dublin.

The Chester Beatty Library – an unexpected Dublin highlight

Poetry contest of the zodiac animals in Japan, a scroll in the Chester Beatty Library

We had planned a visit to Dublin Castle as well, but as it was heavily raining, we decided instead to have a look at the Chester Beatty Library on the premises of the castle. We had not read up about it and expected some sort of historical library – like the famous Long Hall at Trinity College we had visited earlier (nice, but not in our Dublin highlights). It turned out that Chester Beatty and his wife Edith were both collectors. Chester Beatty’s main interest was books and prints, but they were both also interested in all things connected with books and prints. Edith Beatty in particular collected also some other items like jewellery and furniture.

That explains why the Chester Beatty Library is actually a museum with scrolls, books and other objects connected with books. It owns one of the biggest collections of Chinese Jade books: Books with pages of thin jade slabs engraved with Chinese characters.

Our personal highlight of the exhibition was a Japanese painted handscroll from the 17th century, called “The Poetry Contest of the Zodiac Animals”. On the part of the scroll we are seeing the happy winners are already celebrating.  Aren’t they cute?

Vegan lunch at Glas Restaurant

Researching the restaurant scene in Dublin we came across the Glas Restaurant, a Michelin-mentioned establishment renowned for its vegan menu. Intrigued, we made an online reservation. At 28 Euro, the three-course meal was surprisingly affordable.

It was a very relaxed and pleasant meal, and everything was very tasty. We just found it difficult at times to connect the items on our plate with the menu description! The starters were relatively easy to sort out: We had fried Jerusalem Artichoke with Red Cabbage and Hazelnut Cream, as well as Cheddar Cream accompanied by Lettuce, Poached Pear, and Pickled Potato Crisps. But Isa’s main included “Condensed Mushrooms“ that appeared like Seitan (only better) and a polenta that we took for potatoes at first. And what we interpreted as a kind of tofu block in Natascha’s dish turned out to be „Dressed Brussel Sprouts”. Never mind, we liked all of it. And the dessert included such delicious and easy to recognize items as Panna Cotta and Chocolate Mousse …

During our visit, the restaurant was pleasantly quiet, with only a handful of tables occupied, predominantly by women. We would definitely like to visit the Glas restaurant again on a return visit to Dublin.

Coffee at the Cloudpicker Coffee Roastery

Cloudpicker Cofffee was among our Dublin highlights!

We really do like coffee, especially freshly brewed single origin coffee. Good coffee we always drink black and as filter coffee. So, whenever there is a chance, we seek out specialty coffee stores in the places we visit. Dublin has quite a vivid coffee scene, but most of the roasteries are situated in the outskirts. So for us they were quite difficult and time-consuming to get to. This is probably due to exorbitantly high rents in the city centre.

One shop of the Cloudpicker Roastery, however, was just around the corner from our hotel. We tried a natural coffee from Thailand and the Buku Hurufa coffee from Ethiopia together with some cinnamon spiced fruit cake. The latter, we liked enough to come back later to buy a package to take home. Why not immediately? They sell their coffee in beautiful square paper boxes – nice souvenirs but inconvenient to carry them around through the museums of Dublin all day!

More coffee in our Dublin highlights

Spiced Irish Coffee at the Dublin Vice Bar

Of course, we had more coffees during the day to keep us fit for the next sightseeing. And we also tried the famous Irish coffee. Irish coffee is a hot black coffee, pimped with sugar and Irish whiskey and some cream on top. Obviously, many cafés and pubs will serve this drink in winter. We went to try it at the Vice Bar, which is famous for its large variety of Irish Coffees.

These were the highlights of our 4-day trip to the Irish capital. We visited a lot of other places too, like the famous Long Hall with the book of Kells, the EPIC Museum, and the Guinness Experience. And while we enjoyed all of them, they did not make it on our list of Dublin highlights. Unfortunately, we could not get tickets for a tour at the Kilmainham Gaol during our visit. Next time! Have you been to Dublin? What were your highlights?

Some books to read about Dublin and Ireland

Lonely Planet Dublin: Top sights and local experiences. 2020

We settled on the Dublin Guide by Lonely Planet after comparing various options in the bookstore. Its mix of concise yet informative content, along with compelling tips off the beaten path, convinced us, and we didn’t regret our pick.

Tana French: In the Woods. 2019

Tana French is perhaps the best-known Irish crime writer. Natascha, unfamiliar with her work, decided to begin with the first volume in her series, and found it gripping from start to finish. Does the disappearance of children two decades ago connect to the recent murder? Volume 1 of the Dublin Murder Squad series wets the appetite for more.

Pete Mc Carthy: Mc Carthy’s Bar
We picked this book up at a Dublin bookstore. It’s about McCarthy’s journeys to Ireland in the late 1990s, delving into his family history. While some details are a bit outdated, like Internet cafes, it’s a hilarious and insightful read into the Irish spirit. Highly recommended!

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  1. Looks like a wonderful trip! Dublin sounds very interesting to check out. Those museums sound fascinating; there is so much great history there. And the food looks great — it would be neat to check out an Irish coffee!

    1. Dear Marysa, I would say the Irish coffee is a must drink if you are travelling in Ireland. As is the Guiness – at least once.

  2. I can understand wanting to check out museums on a visit to Dublin in the winter. The “coffin ship” would certainly be an unusual spot to visit. Always great when you get an unexpected treat like your visit to the Chester Beatty Library.

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